Author: John Roman
University of Florida, Goalkeepers Coach, Women's Soccer
As an aspiring college athlete, you have probably heard versions of, “Don’t commit too soon!” or,
“Commit early!” or, “Wait it out, more coaches just need to see you!” To navigate these uncertain
waters, this blog will help you make the right choice at the right time.
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Where should you start? The common phrases above are aimed at the wrong target. Your target should not be agreeing to play soccer. Rather your target is always the alignment between your priorities and what the school offers. Start by creating a spreadsheet with your top priorities. Use columns of:
(2) Nice to have
(3) Don’t want
Within (1-3) have subcategories entered as rows (a-c in the
current example), which minimally include:
- Academics (1a, 2a, 3a)
-Financial (1b, 2b, 3b)
- Soccer (1c, 2c, 3c)
Using my example, you would make a 3x3 matrix, which rates, academics in non-negotiable, nice to have, and don’t want columns, followed by the financial row and so on.
Be specific in your matrix rating system. For example, if playing time is a non-negotiable, what does that mean? Full games? Would you rather win or play right away? How important are certain nice to have compared to alternative options? These questions are infinite, so brainstorm with your parents and others in your sphere.
Ideally, before committing to any school, you have informed your matrix rating system by visiting the school, speaking with current players, watching practice, seeing a match, and sitting in on one class. This experience pressure tests your perceptions, providing valuable information. Now, using your priorities from your matrix ratings, re-evaluate the common phrases below.
Don’t commit too soon!
If a college soccer program and the school they represent perfectly meet all your criteria, then really you can never commit too soon. In other words, there should be no better alternative. However, meeting every criterion is often impossible as knowledge of your needs and what is out there grows and diversifies. When athletes want to change their commitment or transfer, it is often because their criteria were not accurate or there has been a substantive change outside of their control. Inaccurate criteria might be de-prioritizing how close home needs to be; whereas, a substantive change
might be a new coaching staff.
The more in-depth your priorities are articulated and internalized, the easier your search will be. Share
your matrix with coaches and ask pointed questions.
What is the value in early commitment? You have a plan and your next four to five years are accounted for. But, the data tells us that a lot of people get this plan wrong. Soccer has routinely the highest transfer rates of all men’s and women’s NCAA sports (below). To view these data in soccer and other sports, the NCAA offers a tool to look at transfer trends and demographics.
Wait it out, more coaches just need to see you!
Why would a savvy athlete choose to wait? Perhaps, the athlete is waiting on a final dollar figure a
school might be able to commit. Should finances be adequately accounted for, the athlete may know
that their top school is waiting on other recruits rated above them to make a decision to see if there is
room on the roster. With the funds and a roster spot, a player might be deciding which “nice to haves”
are most important by taking time to ruminate.
Sometimes players “just want to play in college” and think continued exposure will bring a dream school to them. By definition, this indicates one does not have their priorities accounted for. Playing soccer is a just a piece of the pie. With clear and understood priorities, waiting should never be detrimental to playing soccer at your dream school. The first question a coach will ask is, “Why are you waiting?” which your priorities will articulate to them. Make sure you explain where each school is rated in your priorities, asking targeted questions to gather absent information if need be.
With a full picture, you should know how a school rates you, what is offered, and if it is a good fit for you based on your priorities. Over communicate with coaches; and, dare to pick up the phone for a chat.